Fred Abbott's new album may sound like the work of a denim-clad heartland rocker from some obscure corner of the American Midwest, but it was recorded in a South London basement

Fred Abbott
(Image credit: Lojinx)

If you did a blind taste test on Shining Under The Soot, you’d assume its makers, Fred Abbott And The Wild Unknown, were long-haired, denim-clad heartland rock stalwarts hailing from some obscure corner of the American Midwest. 

Not so. Abbott recorded the album in his basement flat in South London, and his hair is merely collar length. He does, however, have a past, as the ex-guitarist for Noah And The Whale – yes them, the late noughties indie band best known for their 2008 hit, the ultra twee 5 Years Time

Still, that was a long time ago, and as Abbott explains NATW were already heading in a more rock direction before they went their separate ways in 2015. “Yeah, by about the third album Last Night On Earth there were more electric guitars and more of an American songwriting influence. I guess by then we’d toured the States a few times and that kind of music seeps in if you’re hearing it every day.” 

Abbott released a solo record immediately after the split but soon turned his hand to producing and writing for other artists. “There were a few voices in the music industry saying ‘don’t make another solo album’. It was only because lockdown happened and everything got cancelled that I suddenly had some time to do something creative for myself.”

So Abbott started writing songs and sending them out to singers he thought could do them justice. Partly because he doesn’t like the sound of his own voice. But he was also inspired by one of his favourite bands. “The Eagles had four brilliant lead singers, and they would all have a go at recording each song and then chose the best version. So that’s the situation I found myself in – being able to choose between two or three really good singers. And then with the people who I hadn’t selected to sing that song I would get them to sing the harmonies. You’d have two or three part harmonies on a lot of the songs, from the same singers doing leads on the others – just like the Eagles.” 

The result is a beautifully crafted album that draws heavily from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bryan Adams and Tom Petty. There are songs inspired by Tina Turner (The Way Out Is Through The Door), atheism (Deep Down) and what sounds like a neat summary of Abbott’s own situation in One More Roll Of The Dice.

“Well, you know, I’ve been doing this for quite a long time,” he shrugs. “I’ve been lucky enough to do music as a career for twenty years but along the way you get a lot of knockbacks and rejections, and yet you keep going because you love the music.” 

And that goes for the Wild Unknown, too: “I think all the guys on this album, the band and the singers, have had their shots at the big time in the past. But we keep coming back for another roll. There’s just something inside us that drives us to do that."

Will Simpson was Music Editor of the Big Issue South West in Bristol before relocating to Thailand to become Deputy Editor of English language books magazine New Arrivals. Since returning to the UK he's freelanced, writing about music for Classic Rock, IDJ, Metro and Guitarist, and environmental issues for Resource and The Spark. He also writes for contract publishing titles such as Teach, Thomson Air, Musician and Korg.